Vampyr is a dark action RPG set in gloomy Whitechapel, 1918. London is gripped by the Spanish Flu, and thousands of lives have been claimed as the virus tightens its grip on the city. You play Jonathon Reid, a doctor who is trying to solve the mystery of the virus, and also – possibly more importantly - discover who it was that turned him into a vampire…
Developed by Dontnod Entertainment, who have previously been responsible for Remember Me and Life is Strange, Vampyr certainly heralds from a rich bloodline. GameWatcher met with Stephane Beauverger, Vampyr’s Narrative Director, recently in Paris to discuss the trials and tribulations of bringing the creatures of the night to life.
GameWatcher: Why did you decide use London as Vampyr’s location? Did you consider any other cities?
Stephane Beauverger: No, one of the reasons why we decided to create a storyline in London is because it’s a gothic city. There are so many legends and mythological creatures associated with the city, with a background as rich as London has, it was easy to imagine a vampire lurking there.
GameWatcher: In the game you play a vampire, an undead creature of the night. How much of the vampire mythology - such as stakes, running water and so forth – is conveyed in the game?
Stephane Beauverger: The vampire figure is very complex because it is such a huge architype; there are many, many versions of this creature. Can it be affected by holy water? Can it be affected by crosses? Does it sparkle in the sun? We had to decide on the specifics, and once we had that, we had our own unique type of vampire. So in a way we created our own lore. For example, they are not ghosts, they have bodies and they can see themselves in mirrors, but they cannot enter a house without being invited. We created all the rules and then decided how to use them.
GameWatcher: So how does the player learn about the origins of the vampires in the game?
Stephane Beauverger: They player will obtain collectables where they discover the background story of the vampires. If you wanted to find out about the lore, it is there in the game to discover. I’m very interested in the way Skyrim builds its world - it is there for you to understand by reading books during the game, and that was an aspect that I liked. We have created a few hidden factions, people who have stood with the vampires for centuries, even vampire hunters are a faction you will meet in the game. They understand who you are and how to fight you, so they know a lot. You will find books and information that they have left which will give you more information about who you are. Or rather, who they think you are.
GameWatcher: You fight vampire hunters, but you also fight other vampires yourself. Why is that, surely you would all be on the same side?
Stephane Beauverger: Vampires are just like mankind – they do not always share the same agenda. You will find many vampire and human enemies. You will start the game as a very fresh vampire, who has only risen up from the grave a few hours ago. You have no clue who did this to you and why they did this to you. You will find out the answer to this by playing the main storyline. Vampires tend to be very secretive and selfish, so you have to find out the answers the hard way by speaking to others and completing quests.
GameWatcher: As a vampire how do you evolve and become stronger? Do you gain experience as you kill people?
Stephane Beauverger: You don’t have to kill anybody in the game, whether you decide to take that path is up to you. You can gain XP by killing rats and other creatures, and you gain experience by completing missions as well. By killing a citizen or another vampire you get a huge surge of XP, so there is a string incentive to kill others. It really is the dark side of the force. It is easier for you to go that way. We don’t want to create a moral system where we say if you did good or bad, you are a vampire so it is in your nature to suck the blood of others.
GameWatcher: So you can openly walk about and kill anyone you find?
Stephane Beauverger: That wouldn’t be a wise way to play the game. Your cover as a doctor must not be blow, so you can only take a life if there are no witnesses. Instead, you have to lead citizens into a dark alley or somewhere secluded to kill them. If you take too many lives, too quickly, an entire district may collapse. At this point in time, the people of Whitechapel have been left alone to fend for themselves. The government just could not cope with the infection. That is interesting because it means you can kill someone on the street and just create another body. No-one will care about that except for the few friends and relatives of the victim, but that will change the way they view you, whether the person you killed was important or not.
GameWatcher: Speaking of Whitechapel, how do the citizens cope with all these hideous vampires walking around? Why aren’t they all running around the streets in panic?
Stephane Beauverger: At the time people were much more at ease with freaks of nature. John Merrick, the Elephant Man is a great example. People who came back from the First World War sometimes had terrible wounds to the face, and they had reconstructive surgery with mixed results. So the people of London were used to some terrible sights at the time, so they just figure the vampires are humans who are horribly scarred. Historically there have also been many cases of people who have been struck by dementia because of the Spanish Flu. There have been a few cases of people killing their whole family because they were crazy with the fever. So when the vampires kill, the citizens presume it was just another murder.
GameWatcher: How accurate is your version of London 1918? Is it an exact street map with all the famous landmarks to explore, similar to the last Assassin’s Creed?
Stephane Beauverger: It’s not going to be a London in terms of an exact street map, but there will be recognisable landmarks, such as Temple Church. The problem we had was obtaining visual rights to the different landmarks, and we are still exploring incorporating landmarks such as Tower Bridge for example. Many buildings have a visual copyright, but hopefully you will see buildings such as Big Ben in the background.
GameWatcher: How much freedom does the player have to kill or not kill the NPCs they encounter?
Stephane Beauverger: The main theme and the story of the game is that we want the player to feel like a vampire who can kill or not, who can save or take a life. It is entirely up to you if you kill someone or not. You are never asked in the storyline to resort to violence, there are always two or sometimes three different solutions to completing the quest. It really is up to you how you end the objective, but there are always consequences. If a vampire asks you to do something, and you decide to do the opposite, then that will not go down well with him. If you have been asked to take a life and you don’t want to obey that order, the people who have asked you to do that will not appreciate you at all. Just as in life, there are a number of different ways to fulfil an objective. It is up to you to choose which one you prefer, but you will pay a price each time.
GameWatcher: So the game has multiple different endings?
Stephane Beauverger: Yes, at the end of the game, all of your consequences will be added up to create a different ending. Each ending will be decided by how you play the game as a vampire; all the little decisions you make will snowball into something big. There are no good and bad endings, it is never a clear cut route to take to be good or bad.
GameWatcher: Along with collectables, what kind of items do you find in the game, and how do you find them?
Stephane Beauverger: You find items by completing quests, opening boxes or by looting the corpses of kills you make. All the ingredients you will need to craft your own weapons will be found by exploration. You can also find information about the vampire lore and their weaknesses in hidden locations, to help you build the bigger picture of what you are facing.
GameWatcher: In terms of playing time, how long is the game designed to be?
Stephane Beauverger: We are planning on it being 15 hours long. That is the time it will take for a play through concentrating solely on the main quests. For now, the game will be split over 25 main missions, but that could still change. There are a lot of secondary objectives and many different collectables for the player to find. 15 hours is really the minimum involvement in terms of time you can spend playing.
GameWatcher: And finally, how far along in the development cycle are you now?
Stephane Beauverger: The game is still in pre-production, and it has been that way for about a year now. We are now just marching forward in the production process. It is still very early in the cycle, but we are aiming for a release some time next year.
Vampyr is marked for release at some point in 2017.